Here is How it Happens

Spencer Dew. Ampersand (SPD, dist.), $16.95 (226p) ISBN 978-0-9841025-9-4
At an elite Ohio college where there are "very few successful suicides" and "[h]ard drug use is kept quiet," art student Martin Wheeler and his friends search for authentic emotion in Dew's (Songs of Insurgency) feverish first novel. Idling in greasy spoon diners and dorm rooms, Martin and his lover Courtney feel their "childhoods…rotting away" and cling to each other as a refuge from their official relationships with long-distance partners—relationships that have soured into "narcotic repetition". Through their art—photographs, poems, and dioramas of the Kent State massacre—and their drug experimentation—huffing correction fluid or injecting animal tranquilizers—Dew writes a spot-on and sympathetic portrayal of a group of kids dealing with "generalized, festering, unexplored, internal angst." Their actual schoolwork feels beside the point as we see Martin and Courtney search for meaning in their world of big-box stores, homelessness, neo-Nazi high school gangs, and other specters of Midwestern life. Dew captures the "violent ambivalence" of young people fearing their future, doubting their potential, and, as Martin describes, stylizing their "still-developing artifice". His prose is simultaneously urgent and hesitant as his characters are desperate for connection but also terrified of what looms ahead. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/08/2013
Release date: 03/01/2013
Genre: Fiction
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